Ernesto, the Brazil Boricua, a blog friend who writes Zero Tres, was nice enough to let me use one of his posts for a guest post here. He and I have had similar experiences in Brazil, and I have found that as much as I hated doing this, it works really well, especially when I most needed help. So I give you: the lost gringo trick.
No offense to anyone in particular; I was like that back in 2004. But time passes and you learn. And one thing I’ve learned is that, when necessary, I can play the role of bumbling idiot. Play up to the stereotype that Brazilians expect, and thus Brazilians help me out.
It can be as simple as picking batata doce at the supermarket. I have no fucking clue how to pick batata doce and macaxeira and inhame. Simple: just exaggerate the accent, and ask the old lady: “É bom?“. She’ll ask if you’re a gringo, you’ll answer “sim” with a thick accent, and she will proceed to select the best available vegetables for you. You can almost see the mental *sigh* as she smiles and thinks “coitado do gringo“. (If you’re a female, try the young, male supermarket employees.)
It’s also worked with Brazil’s Department of Transportation (DETRAN). Before I had my Brazilian driver’s license I would always show my Puerto Rican driver’s license, plus my passport, and exaggerate the accent. “Oh, I can’t drive? Really? Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t know.” No fine, no fuss, no breathalyzer test. Free to go. They wave me on as they think to themselves “coitado do gringo“.
Once in Maranhão I was offered a pousada for R$85 (“oitenta-e-cinco”); I took out R$35 (“trinta-e-cinco”) and handed it over. “Oh no,” the owner said, now with hand gestures, “oitenta-e-cinco“. So I apologize (because my Portuguese is obviously very poor and I must have misunderstood); I put the money back in my pocket and begin to walk away. “But,” he says, “no, it’s ok. You are alone. R$85 is for a couple.” It’s low season, and the pousada is empty, so why would he let me walk away? I smile and hand over the R$35, thinking that if it was indeed R$85 for a couple then it should be R$42.50 for a single. I may have just saved R$7.50 or R$50 without even negotiating. But how much I saved doesn’t matter; I’m happy, because the lost, confused, misunderstood gringo persona worked again.
It’s not all personal benefit; it also helps in uncomfortable situations too. For example, I don’t like pointing out when someone gives me the incorrect change, and the “bumbling idiot gringo” persona helps. You simply look at the change you received, with a confused look on your face, and ask (with a thick accent, of course) “Quanto?“. It’s a nice way of saying: “You are either trying to rip me off, or you failed math class.” But the Brazilian smiles, counts and corrects the mistake.
It’s the “papo de gringo perdido” ©. No matter how many years I live here, no matter how well I know the country, there will always be a situation when playing up to the stereotype will have its advantages.